For animator Mikey Please a whole lot of story telling has happened between the deforming of Calvin & Hobbes out of plasticine (aged seven) and winning the Bafta for Best Short Animation this year with the relative tale of time, Eagleman Stag. From those formative years he has selected five, important sized literary works that have gone some way in crafting his own, unique narrative voice and the inspriational means to make it heard.
(The Complete) Calvin and Hobbes 1985-1995 Bill Watterson
In terms of personal nourishment from a literary teat, nothing has sustained me more through my formative years than Calvin and Hobbes. For the unfamiliar few, the series chronicles young outsider Calvin and his stuffed toy tiger Hobbes, who becomes ‘real’ when no one else is watching. Calvin uses this mode of escape through imagination to explore several worlds and characters, from Spaceman Spiff and Stupendious man to the G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) society. But setting C & H aside from other stories similar in premise are the more cerebral subjects that work into the main narratives. Calvin’s reverence of nature, thoughtful analysis of our world, cherishing of childhood, friendship and his continued bafflement at other human beings all set about poking various parts of your brain. I’ve yet to come across a graphic work more diverse and subtle in its shading and interweaving of these components.
I first read C&H when I was seven, at a secondhand bookshop in Frome, and since then every year, for as long as they were in production, my brother and I would receive the new installment at christmas. My very first plasticine models were crude renderings of the pair in an Attack of the Killer Monster Snow Goons scene. Whilst growing up with the books, I also grew up with the author, seeing his development in style and content, expanding into longer stories, refining his line work and developing the visual complexities of Calvin’s world. It was my storytelling 101. Although much of the material may not have made complete literal sense to me first time round as a child, it laid the the way, like being surrounded by a foreign language, for the ideas later to be taken in. This balance of unabashed, glorious playfulness, with a sincere and thoughtful core has most certainly shaped the tone of my own work.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Dave Eggers
An autobiography of the writer from his late teens, starting at the death of his parents and the legal guardianship of his infant brother, ending in his late twenties, this book is a wonderful reflection on what it is to be young and aspiring and trying to do something of cultural worth against the obstacles of LIFE. I read this book at precisely the right time, my early twenties, straight out of university with crippling ambitions for world domination, faced with mammoth obstructions and laughable results. Aside from living up to the title in every way, the book gave me a great sense of self awareness, laying a healthy dollop of self mockery right on my face. From Eggers failed magazine ‘MIGHT’ to his attempts to become a television personality in the 90s reality show ‘Party of Five’, we are exposed to his motivations, expressing the things we feel but would never say out loud, the full frontal honesty, extremely funny and not always pretty. The book becomes an analysis of itself as the characters begin to question how truthfully they are being portrayed by the writer and refuse to take part in any more self glorification. It’s a wonderfully difficult thing to know what you are doing, let alone see it from the perspective of somebody else, but Eggers manages to do this and and in doing so teaches you to do it a little yourself. Um, it’s just really, really good.
The Universe Next Door Marcus Chown
Twelve of the most out there, yet scientifically plausible theories about today. This book is awesome, in the dictionary definition of the word – we are mostly made up empty space! At the centre of every atom is a coil of time! You will never die, all the alternative reality versions of you will do that for you! Although as a complete book its far from the best thing ever written, some of the ideas in there are ridiculously cool. I’m a big fan of theories that might not be entirely believable, for me that doesn’t matter so much, it’s the story that counts. I can’t really begin to explain this stuff, I would do it badly and it would be boring, but read the book. It’ll lead you to many a drunken rant trying desperately to explain Boson particles. Which is better than it sounds.
Sum – 40 tales form the Afterlives David Eagleman
Despite many a suggestion, I only happened across this book after the production of my last film (The Eagleman Stag) was long complete. I wish I had read it sooner. Written by David Eagleman, an American Neuroscientist who specalises in synesthesia and the perception of time, it details in brief one-two page stories, 40 alternative versions of the afterlife. Eagleman claims to be neither an Atheist or an Agnostic but a Possibilian; believing everything and anything to be possible and all equally as likely. The tales range from an afterlife where the events of your life are relived in sequence by their event categorisation, 27 years sleeping, 3 years on the loo, one week stood wondering why it was you entered the room etc… to being sent to a planet inhabited by simple dwarf creatures asking you desperately what the meaning of it all was. In one afterlife everything is exactly the same except it seams a little emptier and you slowly realise that the world is only inhabited by the people you met when you were alive, and you begin to regret all those you never met. From the bizarre to the poetic, at the core of each story is a gem of an idea. Although these invariably talk about life after death, for me they were not so much about dying but ways of interpreting, and holding a mirror up to the ways in which we live. This theme of seeing yourself more clearly is something that threads though many of my favorite stories. Where other writers might have taken one of these ideas and expanded it into a longer form, part of their joy of Sum is in its succinct nature, the bare bones of each story is what makes it all the more appealing. If you ever have the pleasure of reading this book try not to gobble them all at once. I suggest to consume but one a day, so you have time to savor and digest, ready for the next. I would like to believe in the second story to last. Read it and see.
Aberystwyth Mon Amore Malcolm Pryce
A private eye pulp fiction, set in an alternative version of Aberystwyth, a Welsh seaside resort town in which druids are the local mafia, veterans of a forgotten civil war in Patagonia roam the beaches, and beautiful ladies in Welsh traditional stovetop hats wander the cobbled alleyways at night. The lyrical prose of Malcolm Pryce’s writing gives a gravitas to this otherwise ridiculous town, that any other rendering would have left feeling comic and flat. In the protagonist Louie Knight’s own words, punters would visit Sospan, the wisened ice cream vendor, in order ‘to take his vanilla soaked tickets to a world where pain was a grazed knee and a mothers kiss is never far away’. Again, the overall story is just so, so good. It feeds back into itself, builds and wraps up so beautifully, the threads weaving together into a cracking whip. The pastiche of welsh culture brought back many a memory of holidays to Fishguard and that area, the exaggerated oddness and idiosyncrasies bringing lightness in otherwise dark moments. The following books in the series are, in my opinion, a bit hit and miss (every odd numbered book is a goodun one, three & five), but Mon Amore remains the pinnacle of the series, building the world, it’s rules and amazing cast of characters and then smashing the whole thing in on its stovepipe-hatted head.